Support Centre

You have out of 5 free articles left for the month

Signup for a trial to access unlimited content.

Start Trial

Continue reading on DataGuidance with:

Free Member

Limited Articles

Create an account to continue accessing select articles, resources, and guidance notes.

Free Trial

Unlimited Access

Start your free trial to access unlimited articles, resources, guidance notes, and workspaces.

International: AI governance in Africa

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming Africa, but harnessing its potential responsibly requires strong governance. The African Union (AU) has made great strides in formulating frameworks and structures to govern the digital and technological space, such as the AU Convention on Cybersecurity and Data Protection (the Malabo Convention). The AU Digital Transformation Strategy 2020-2030 and the AU Data Policy Framework are also notable and both provide for Member States to nationalize and make adequate provisions for online security, data protection, and overall tech governance systems.

In this Insight article, Rachel Magege, from Pollicy, sheds light on current trends in AI governance in Africa, specifically what lies at the heart of the continent's current digital and business ventures. Rachel provides a breakdown of a few components in the African AI governance space as well as key recommendations on best practices that will serve the interests of the African people in a time of great technological advancements.

wonry/E+ via Getty Images

Governance components

As of June 17, 2024, African Ministers from all over the continent unanimously adopted and endorsed the AU AI Strategy. This strategy is expected to set a unique African approach to AI governance, prioritizing ethical development, harnessing local talent and innovation, and addressing the continent's economic needs. At the national level, several countries have begun or completed drafting their own AI frameworks, such as Tanzania, Ghana, Egypt, Rwanda, Kenya, and Mauritius, to name a few. As an instance of most recent events, Tanzania is pioneering in developing the National AI Strategy and Guidelines. Currently, Tanzania's Ministry of Information, Communication and Information Technology has begun drafting this framework and is seeking consultations with several stakeholders and experts on how to effectively design this legal structure.

It is also important to note that there are different components of AI governance, such as data protection, intellectual property rights, business and trade, inclusivity, and many others. This Insight article addresses three as they relate to Africa, i.e., business and trade, data protection, and inclusion.

Business and trade

On business and trade, one of the most notable digital governance structures established under the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) is the AfCFTA Digital Trade Protocol, officially adopted on February 18, 2024. It governs and facilitates digital trade in Africa, with a key focus on business and consumer trust, effective payment schemes, and emerging technologies including AI. Notably, on June 10, 2024, the AfCFTA Committee on Digital Trade met to deliberate on the Annexes of the Digital Trade Protocol, where it is expected that the Protocol is soon approaching its final makeup stages and the region will begin to see AI playing a crucial role in digital trading in Africa.

Data protection

Secondly, data protection frameworks in Africa are emerging as a critical piece of the continent's AI structuring. The Malabo Convention, for instance, establishes legal ground rules for how personal data is handled, which is vital for AI systems that often rely on vast amounts of both personal and general information. AU Member States are developing their own national data protection legislation, and these frameworks ensure transparency and user control over their data, preventing situations where AI algorithms become biased or discriminatory due to skewed datasets. Collaboration has also been formed with the guidance of the Network of African Data Protection Authorities (NADPA) and the African Commission on Human and People's Rights where initiatives have been made to construct a Memorandum of Understanding with all data protection authorities in Africa in an effort to harmonize data protection mechanisms in the region. By setting clear boundaries for data use, data protection empowers responsible AI development in Africa, fostering trust and ensuring the technology benefits all citizens.

Inclusion

Lastly, for Africa to fully harness the potential of AI, ensuring inclusion is paramount. This means tech companies and national regulators must ensure that AI systems deployed in the region are sensitive to local African languages, to the needs of often marginalized groups such as women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, and to capture local sources of national income. It is commendable to see that key actors in the AI and tech governance space are working to foster participation from diverse communities across the continent, such as the AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade. Traditionally, AI development has been geographically concentrated, with limited representation from African countries. By encouraging local participation in research, development, and governance, AI can be tailored to address Africa's specific needs and challenges. This could involve incorporating indigenous knowledge systems and ensuring AI solutions are accessible in local languages. Ultimately, inclusive AI in Africa requires a shift from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that empowers local talent and fosters innovation that benefits all of Africa's people.

Proposed recommendations for best practices

Context-specific frameworks and collaboration

African nations should prioritize developing AI governance frameworks that reflect their unique cultural values, state development goals, and existing legal structures. This can be achieved through consultations with public and private stakeholders like policymakers, researchers, and citizen groups. Additionally, collaboration between African countries on AI governance is crucial. Sharing best practices, experiences, and resources through regional initiatives can accelerate progress and create a unified African voice in global AI discussions.

Building capacity and infrastructure

Investment in building human capital and infrastructure is essential for effective AI governance in Africa. This includes promoting AI education and training programs to create a skilled workforce. Additionally, governments should focus on developing robust digital infrastructure, including reliable internet access, data centers, and high-powered computing resources. These factors are important because a skilled workforce is needed to develop, implement, and manage AI systems responsibly. Robust infrastructure ensures smooth AI development and adoption while supporting data security and privacy.

Fostering inclusive and sustainable AI

Inclusive AI structures ensure everyone benefits from the technology. African AI governance frameworks should prioritize inclusivity and sustainability. This means promoting policies that bridge the digital divide, whether it be in education, economic status, gender, or accessibility, and therefore ensuring equitable access to AI benefits across all demographics and mitigating potential biases in AI systems. Sustainable AI development will consider environmental impact and promote responsible data practices.

Conclusion

The way African nations approach AI governance will play a critical role in shaping the continent's future. Responsible AI development can empower Africa to leapfrog traditional development hurdles, fostering innovation, economic growth, and social progress. Conversely, inadequate governance could exacerbate existing inequalities, lead to job displacement, and undermine privacy rights. By prioritizing human-centric AI and fostering collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society, Africa has the potential to become a global leader in responsible AI development, ensuring a future where technology empowers all its citizens.

Rachel Magege Data Governance Specialist
[email protected]
Pollicy, Dar es Salaam